This Saturday, Rutgers and Maryland face off at High Point Solutions Stadium in, quite frankly, one of the least anticipated games in the Big Ten this season. After both programs enjoyed a strong first year in the Big Ten, both the Scarlet Knights and Terps digressed in a major way in Year Two.
And yet, Saturday's game has the chance to be a continuation in a budding Big Ten rivalry.
Rivalries are one of the best parts of college football. They add stakes and excitement to any game between the two teams. They create an annual hype-fest of opposing fans going back and forth, bringing up classic moments in the rivalry, and why Team X is going to take it to Team Y on Saturday. The tailgates. The tension. The crowds. The traditions.
I think it's about time Rutgers got in on the fun. Rutgers fans want a legitimate rivalry, a game to circle on the calendar each year. And I think Maryland presents the best opportunity for a great rivalry. Here's why.
Location, Location, Location
This one is pretty obvious. A rivalry is so much more intense when fans from one school can hop in the car and drive to the other for gameday. This way, thousands of fans can interact, and the away fans can make an effort to neutralize home field advantage for the hosting fans. It gives fans from both teams an opportunity to not only support their team wherever they go, but to take in the environment and gameday traditions of the other.
Enter Rutgers and Maryland. College Park is geographically the closest Big Ten campus to Rutgers, as fans can travel from one to the other in right around three hours. The next closest is Penn State, which is closer to three and a half or four hours away. After Penn State, you're looking at a lot of schools that aren't feasible day trips - Ohio State is the next closest, roughly eight hours away.
I was able to visit Maryland last year and really enjoyed it. It helped that a couple of my friends go there and were able to meet up with me and show my group around, but since it was Thanksgiving weekend I wasn't sure how many other Rutgers fans would make the trip. I was pleasantly surprised to see a lot of them did, and with a lot of Maryland fans no-showing the game (understandably, I suppose, given the holiday), it was clear the majority of fans in attendance were diehards, both on Rutgers' and Maryland's side, making it an exciting fan environment. I hope to see that continue in the future.
We're the New Guys
This is probably the biggest reason why a rivalry with Maryland is more feasible in the immediate future than one with Penn State.
Rutgers and Maryland are both fledglings in the Big Ten, and we're sitting at the kids table in terms of Big Ten rivalries, while the elders, Ohio State, Penn State, Michigan, Michigan State, etc., have had more time to develop true rivalries amongst themselves.
Like I said above, geographic location plays a big part in football rivalries. In that case, a rivalry with Penn State makes sense for both Rutgers and Maryland. But while Maryland may be able to stake a bigger claim to a PSU rivalry than Rutgers after last year's infamous handshake incident, neither program has a true rivalry with Penn State. The Terps are 2-36-1 lifetime against Penn State, while Rutgers is 2-24.
A Rutgers-Maryland rivalry makes the most sense as one that could get off the ground quickly, thanks in large part due to well, our, lack of Big Ten tradition and lack of time to develop any other rivalries. We're geographically close, we have passionate enough fans that will make the trip every year, and we've bonded over being the new guys in town.
Enough about off-the-field reasons. Let's talk football.
With Rutgers and Maryland now sharing a conference, recruiting nuts will always be analyzing star ratings and verbal commits when comparing the recruiting prowess of both programs. Joining a big time conference like the Big Ten adds pressure to bring in big time recruits. Both Rutgers and Maryland responded by announcing plans for improved facilities.
Maryland wasted no time, as last November they announced plans for Cole Field House, a brand new indoor athletics facility, with Under Armour giving Maryland $25 million for its construction.
Back in June, Rutgers president Robert Barchi announced athletics facilities plans, particularly expansions to the Hale Center and The RAC, potentially being integrated in the next decade.
Chances are, Rutgers and Maryland will be attempting to woo the same recruits with their shiny new facilities very soon. We already know both programs recruit in each other's states - Rutgers has four players from Maryland on the roster, including starting center Derrick Nelson, while Maryland has four New Jersey players, like starting punter Nicolas Pritchard.
Rutgers and Maryland just went at it in a huge recruiting battle earlier this year over QB Dwayne Haskins from Potomac, MD. The four-star prospect was a frequent visitor of Rutgers over the past year, but Haskins ultimately committed to his home state school over QB-needy Rutgers.
The Scarlet Knights eventually added a potential signal caller of the future in Anthony Russo, but the battle over Haskins is just one of what should be many recruiting battles between Rutgers and Maryland over the next several years.
Rivalries Are Made On the Field
Kyle Flood has always said something similar to this when asked about rivalries with Big Ten opponents. And he's right. The reason most Penn State fans don't consider Rutgers-PSU to be a rivalry is because we haven't beaten them since the 80s, and are 0-2 against them as Big Ten opponents.
Rutgers and Maryland have only faced each other 11 times, but the series is pretty even. Maryland holds a 6-5 advantage, but Rutgers has won the last two, meaning neither team can boast dominance over the other. And if competitive games truly foster rivalries, then last year's meeting should get the job done.
In one of the craziest games in college football last year, Maryland came out of the gate hot, jumping out to a dominating 35-10 lead late in the first half. Maryland put up 28 points in the second quarter alone, and Rutgers looked like they were done for.
But we all remember what happened next. Rutgers mounted a furious comeback, and took the lead on a fourth quarter field goal. After some of the most nerve-wracking minutes of the season that featured Maryland's kicker missing a game-tying field goal, Rutgers fumbling the ball back to Maryland while running out the clock and then the Rutgers defense stopping Maryland on 4th and 1 to ice the game, Rutgers won.
Both teams defied expectations and enjoyed strong seasons in their first year in the Big Ten, and they showcased their talent to the rest of the conference with that excellent regular season finale.
Fans of both teams are still talking about the game today, albeit with different opinions of the result. While tomorrow's game might not have the same hype given both teams' disappointing seasons, another competitive game will just add fuel to the fire burning for a true Big Ten rivalry.
Sorry Rutgers fans, but I don't think Rutgers-Penn State is going to happen any time soon. But there are a number of reasons for a Rutgers-Maryland rivalry, and I think both teams and fanbases would be better served by embracing it.
...Plus Terps rhymes with Twerps, and that just feels too easy to not use in heated internet arguments for Rutgers' superiority over our crab-eating, lacrosse-loving neighbors to the slightly southwest.
What do you guys think? Can Rutgers-Maryland be a thing? Is it already a thing? Shouldn't the trophy be a crab made out of bagels? Tell me how great of an idea a crab made out of bagels trophy is in the comments below!